- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2016

Twenty million people have gained coverage under Obamacare, President Obama said Thursday as he took a victory lap and tried to convince Americans to keep his signature achievement going after he leaves office.

Before a supportive crowd in Milwaukee, Mr. Obama challenged Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other holdouts to join the 31 states that have expanded Medicaid benefits for the poor. He also dared the GOP to follow through on its plan to scrap the Affordable Care Act.

“If they got their way, 20 million people will have their insurance taken away from them,” Mr. Obama said.

He was in Milwaukee to reward the city for recruiting 38,000 new customers to sign up for insurance during the most recent enrollment period on the federal HealthCare.gov exchange.

Nearly 13 million Americans signed up for plans on the exchanges this year, the administration says. And millions more gained coverage in the states that expanded Medicaid, or by taking advantage of new Obamacare rules that allow young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.

When combined, some 20 million people are benefitting from the Affordable Care Act, the Health and Human Services Department said. That drove the uninsured rate down to 9.1 percent in 2015.

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But Mr. Obama is running out of time to shore up his health care legacy in his final year in office, as questions continue to mount.

Congressional budget scorekeepers had projected that 21 million people should be using the exchanges at this point, compared to the 13 million that actually signed up. GOP critics say that’s proof that enrollment is “stalling out,” though the administration says the initial projection was wrong.

Meanwhile the nation’s largest insurer, UnitedHealth Group, has threatened to pull out of Obamacare’s exchanges by 2017 if they keep losing money on them, while other major insurers have stood by the project, despite losses.

HHS last week said it will require applicants to provide proof of life events that trigger sign-ups outside of the normal enrollment period, after insurers said those customers tended to be sicker ones who rack up claims.

The public is also still skeptical of the law, though polling suggests that many would rather improve it than scrap it altogether.

“Republicans have spent hundreds of millions of dollars distorting the truth about this law, fueling conspiracy theories about this law, and there is no question that it is going to have an impact,” White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said Thursday.

Mr. Obama mocked the GOP’s hopes that a Republican president in 2017 would repeal and replace the law. He said if it were possible, the GOP would already have an alternative.

“They still haven’t come up with a replacement, partly because we designed this plan with the help of a bunch of Republican thinkers, including the then-governor of Massachusetts,” he said.

He was referring to 2012 presidential foe Mitt Romney, who as governor pushed state health reforms that paved the way for Obamacare and its individual mandate requiring Americans to hold insurance.

The mandate is one of the most unpopular aspects of the law, along with coverage requirements that kicked people off bare-bones plans they liked and drove up costs for some enrollees.

Mr. Obama contended those coverage rules translated into more services, capping his point with a nod to an Internet meme that faults his presidency for all problems.

“Your insurance is better than it was, even if you don’t know it, even if you didn’t vote for me,” he said. “Thanks, Obama.”

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